Vinson: Lassoing some Mustangs


The week's column was inspired by several different, though directly correlated, events. If it works as planned, both young and older readers might learn something useful.

A few years back, I was at a car show, and this young fellow and his young girlfriend were proudly standing by his shiny Shelby Mustang convertible, top down. Thinking back, I'm gonna say this particular Mustang car was somewhere between a 2008-2010 in year made.

I commented along the lines of, "Nice ride - that Carroll Shelby was a true genius."

"Who's she?" the young woman genuinely inquired.

"You mean Eleanor, the Mustang Nicholas Cage drove in the movie 'Gone in 60 Seconds'?" the young man piped in.
OK, let's stop right here and I'll ask you Mustang car owners and enthusiasts a couple questions? Are you familiar with the name Carroll Shelby? Are you familiar with Eleanor, in terms of Mustang vehicles?

In no way attempting to come across as a Mustang expert/historian, I'll share with you some of what the young couple and I discussed that day at the car show.

Put simply, Carroll Hall Shelby (Jan. 11, 1923 - May 10, 2012) was an iconic trend setter in the automotive industry. A successful race car driver, he was light years ahead of a majority of his peers in automotive design and concept.
Shelby is best known for helping design the two-seater AC Cobra sports car, a.k.a. Ford/Shelby AC Cobra, manufactured 1962-1967, and also the Shelby Mustang, manufactured 1965-1970. The AC Cobra was lightning fast for its time and meant to capture some of the Chevrolet Corvette market. The Shelby Mustang was a higher performance variant of the stock Mustang: burning rubber and getting sideways vs. cruising within the speed limit on a Sunday afternoon.

Best I can research, the Shelby Mustang nameplate was revived in 2007 and has continued ever since.

Now for "Eleanor":

Indeed, "Eleanor" is the codename for the 1967 Ford Mustang GT500 fastback Nicholas Cage drove in the 2000 movie "Gone in 60 Seconds," about a top-notch car theft ring led by Randall "Memphis" Raines (Cage), under pressure to steal 50 exotic cars in 96 hours, in order to save his younger brother, Kip.

Back to the young couple standing by the Shelby Mustang convertible: We agreed the movie "Gone in 60 Seconds"--"Eleanor," specifically--was responsible for a renewed interest in Shelby Mustang cars. I then asked the young couple if they'd ever seen the movie "Bullit," a crime thriller (1968) starring Steve McQueen, "King of Cool," as tough San Fancisco cop Frank Bullit, who drives a 1968 Ford Mustang GT fastback. The car chase scene between McQueen, in the Mustang, and the bad guys, in a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T, is classic and, arguably set the standard for car chase scenes in filmmaking.

They commented they neither had seen nor heard of "Bullit."

I told the couple that while Eleanor, in fact, was a famous Mustang, I personally felt the Mustang McQueen drove in the movie "Bullit" was the most famous Mustang car ever.

The young fellow smiled and said, "Cool--we'll have to check out that flick with McQueen. ... Yeah, cool."

A major point to be made at this juncture is: Had there not been the car genius of Carroll Shelby, there might never have been a "Bullit," and, metaphorically speaking, the Mustangs might be casually grazing in the pasture instead of still "galloping on asphalt" in wild herds!

Oh, I almost forgot: I recently purchased and read a book titled "Motor Trend Presents Shelby." A quote from the book reads: "Carroll Shelby's story is one of guts, grit and gumption. It is the tale of high speeds and higher risks, of winning -- and losing -- on the world's biggest stages. It is a primer on international motor racing, a case study of ingenuity and entrepreneurship, and a treatise on American performance cars."

Had I not read "Motor Trend Presents Shelby," I doubt I would've written this column.

I think it's pretty "cool" the way it all just fell into place.